Boston University Sues Apple Over Gallium Nitride Thin Film Patent

Discussion in ' News Discussion' started by MacRumors, Jul 3, 2013.

  1. MacRumors macrumors bot


    Apr 12, 2001

    Apple has been sued by Boston University over a patent for gallium nitride films that the University alleges is used in the iPhone 5, iPad and MacBook Air, amongst other products. The Boston Herald first reported on the lawsuit.

    The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for Massachusetts, is for a patent awarded to a BU professor for which the university owns the rights.

    U.S. Patent 5,686,738, titled "Highly Insulating Monocrystalline Gallium Nitride Thin Film" is related to a particular manufacturing process for LEDs and other semiconductor devices.

    The lawsuit does not specify what inside Apple's products is alleged to be infringing, just noting Apple products in general. Boston University has sued a number of other companies over the same patent in recent months, including Samsung [PDF].

    The initial filing is embedded below.

    Article Link: Boston University Sues Apple Over Gallium Nitride Thin Film Patent
  2. sza macrumors 6502

    Dec 21, 2010
    He who has a mind to beat his dog will easily find his stick.
  3. ka-spot macrumors 6502a

    May 23, 2012
    Sofia, Bulgaria
    Sue them for not releasing Macbook Pro Retina ;)
  4. jonnysods macrumors 601


    Sep 20, 2006
    There & Back Again
    Apple's civil lawsuit department will need it's own spaceship campus soon!
  5. Plutonius macrumors 603


    Feb 22, 2003
    New Hampshire
    A great way of getting your name or your organization name in the news :D.
  6. neuropsychguy macrumors 6502a


    Sep 29, 2008
    Apple will likely settle this one quickly. At least it's not another patent troll firm.
  7. Hastings101 macrumors 68000


    Jun 22, 2010
    Oops lol

    Better settle this one outside of the courtroom.
  8. HiVolt macrumors 6502


    Sep 29, 2008
    Toronto, Canada
    At least it's not some patent whore firm thats suing...

    it will be interesting to see how it plays out...

    Also would be interesting if this "technology" is used by other phone & laptop manufacturers, and if they are licensing it or not.
  9. drewyboy macrumors 65816

    Jan 27, 2005
    Maybe I'm an idiot, but last time I checked apple doesn't manufacture the screens, they only buy them... Sooooo, why isn't this lawsuit contained to LCD manufactures?
  10. smithrh macrumors 68020


    Feb 28, 2009
    If you read the OP you'd know the answer to this.

    In any case, I'd guess that this is actually a case between BU and whatever suppliers to Apple might have done. The linked articles are fairly content-free and I don't have time to go through the patent.
  11. techwhiz macrumors 6502a

    Feb 22, 2010
    Northern Ca.
    Apple doesn't make LEDs. They should be suing the manufacturer of the parts. Apple is the aparent deep pockets.

    Bogus at best.
  12. HiVolt macrumors 6502


    Sep 29, 2008
    Toronto, Canada
    They make the specification of what the screens are to be manufactured, so I assume it's their fault if their design calls for use of other people's patented technology.

    Apple doesn't manufacture ANYTHING. ;)
  13. err404 macrumors 68020

    Mar 4, 2007
    Because Apple is selling an infringing product. The LCD manufactures could probably be sued too, but there is more profits if you consider the final assembled product value.
  14. drewyboy macrumors 65816

    Jan 27, 2005
    F it, why not sue every end user for a dollar per infringing device. You'd make hundreds of millions of dollars rather than just 75 mill. Go big or go home. Also, what took them so long? Is it just in the last year that devices started using the technology?
  15. calearne macrumors member


    Jun 12, 2013
    United States
  16. donutbagel macrumors 6502a

    Jun 9, 2013
    "This invention relates to a method of preparing highly insulating GaN single crystal films in a molecular beam epitaxial growth chamber. A single crystal substrate is provided with the appropriate lattice match for the desired crystal structure of GaN. A molecular beam source of Ga and source of activated atomic and ionic nitrogen are provided within the growth chamber. The desired film is deposited by exposing the substrate to Ga and nitrogen sources in a two step growth process using a low temperature nucleation step and a high temperature growth step. The low temperature process is carried out at C. and the high temperature process is carried out at C. The preferred source of activated nitrogen is an electron cyclotron resonance microwave plasma."

    This seems pretty specific, but to be honest, I hardly have any idea what they are talking about. People above bashing BU for using this patent really should show some proof that they know what they are saying because it seems like "fanboy" yelling.


    Yeah, I didn't know anyone could be held accountable for buying an infringing product. Apple doesn't even necessarily know how the parts are made. Theoretically, they could be buying mystery products that secretly infringe something.
  17. lilo777 macrumors 603

    Nov 25, 2009
    The manufacturer is probably in Taiwan and BU patented this thing in US. It's OK for the manufacturer to sell their LEDs in Taiwan, it's not OK for Apple to bring and sell them in US.
  18. JohnPhamlore macrumors regular

    Aug 3, 2011
    Blame the Vietnam anti-war movement

    Let's put the blame for the current patent mess where it belongs: the Vietnam anti-war movement. The Mansfield Amendment(s) cut off the military from sponsoring basic research at universities also removing a key advocate of funding such basic research, destroying a consensus that had emerged only after World War II. The NSF that was supposed to replace basic research funding had no political base in Congress.

    The solution was to change the patent system so that universities could hold patents developed from government funded research. Now such patents are part of each university's net worth, and the universities can go to their local Congressmen and tell them to not reform patent law too much in the direction of limiting rights for non-practicing entities.
  19. SPUY767 macrumors 68000


    Jun 22, 2003
    A potentially legitimate patent suit!? Someone get the smelling salts.
  20. iMatt7 macrumors newbie

    May 21, 2013
    If Boston University gets some money out of this will it be dumped back into the school to lower tuition for students or into school buildings / programs? I know at other schools, it would most likely be stuffed into the pockets of the president, administrative faculty, board members, etc.
  21. oneMadRssn macrumors 68040


    Sep 8, 2011
    Boston, MA
    Really? BU doesn't make use of the patent; they're just using it to sue. Sounds like a non-practicing entity to me. Troll!!!!

    (that's sarcasm to point out that defining patent troll is very tough)

    Ingringement is making, using, importing, selling, or offering for sale a patented idea. In this case I bet that Apple is accused of using, selling, and offering for sale. I don't think anyone is accusing them of making it.
  22. name99 macrumors 6502

    Jun 21, 2004
    That specificity is what makes me wonder about the likelihood of this being relevant. The quote above refers to manufacturing via MBE (molecular beam epitaxy). MBE is the method of choice for research labs, because it gives you maximum control, but it is not the method of choice for mass manufacturing because it doesn't scale well to large volumes.
    Manufacturers would prefer to use MOCVD (metal-organic chemical vapor deposition) which can prepare in parallel a large number of wafers in a single chamber. MOCVD is not a slight variant on MBE, it is a very different type of technology.
    If MOCVD CAN be used for manufacturing GaN substrate (and my five minutes of googling indicate it can) that would be the preferred route for volume manufacture.

    I'd also be curious as to what the law is for the equivalent of frivolous patent suits. If you have good reason to believe that manufacturers DON'T use your patent, but rather than examining their plants to learn this, you figure, "what the heck, let's just throw out a lawsuit anyway" do you get punished by the court?
  23. garya73 macrumors 6502

    May 12, 2013
    Delaware, USA
    If you're going to file a lawsuit of this magnitude against a powerful multinational corporation, you better make sure that all your ducks are in a row and the suit is 100% airtight before filing it. Just imagine all the hours the lawyers have spent just preparing for this case.

    $75 million is a lot of money. We're not talking small claims here. The final award is often determined by a judge or jury, who can raise or lower the settlement amount. Also think about past/current/future licensing fees that Apple will have to pay BU if they lose this lawsuit.
  24. macs4nw macrumors 68040


    Free iPads for all students and faculty. :)

    Seriously, it's getting so complicated and time consuming to check anything and everything that goes into the manufacture of outsourced components, that I can see this happening. Even if they knew, they might have thought that this could slip under the radar. Suppliers sometimes even substitute components/processes without telling their customers, and hope this will not be detected. I recently read of a case where FOXCONN had allegedly done this with, I can't remember which, APPLE product line.

    If this is legit, APPLE should settle this quickly.

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